Simple little blocks of black and white letters placed on a sign. Across the nation, they are becoming some of the most effective tools for attracting new members to churches, especially when those letters spell out witty thoughts or points worth pondering. As Reed Galin reports, the more clever the message, the more crowded the pews.
(Locator: Bethesda, MD)
If it pays to advertise, churches are taking a cue from Madison Avenue. Weekly newsletters don’t get this kind of exposure, as churches near the D.C. beltway give passing motorists food for thought.
The Rev. Debbie Scott/North Bethesda United Methodist Church: “We are known as the church of the sign. It seems far more folks recognize us from the sign out front than the steeple on top.”
The pastor of North Bethesda United Methodist Church works to keep the message fresh.
The Rev. Debbie Scott/North Bethesda United Methodist Church: “We had one up there just a week or so ago that read, ‘If you can’t be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.’”
Motorists appreciate the effort.
Chris Wellisz/Bethesda Resident: “I think they’re very funny.”
Angela Mattison/Bethesda Resident: “It makes me feel good, I think they have good messages.”
John Buhl/Bethesda Resident: “It inspires me to do better usually with my life.”
The messages can draw people to the pews – which pleases pastors.
The Rev. Joye Jones/Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, Silver Spring, MD: “An awful lot of signs are funny or at least have a hint of humor to them, so that people can kind of chuckle and say, ‘Oh, well, maybe those Methodists aren’t so stuffy after all.’”
And, some quotes have a lingering effect, even years afterward.
Joyce Newcomb/Member, Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, Silver Spring, MD: “My favorite saying was, 'For longstanding problems, try kneeling.'”
Wade Johnston posts the sayings for his Texas church.
Wade Johnston/Member, Summit United Methodist Church, Marshall, TX: “I just hope that it has a positive influence on people.”
And that influence can increase attendance – or simply have an effect on everyday life.
The Rev. Debbie Scott/North Bethesda United Methodist Church: “'Drive carefully, it's not only cars that can be recalled by their maker.' You'll find folks sitting out here that will probably give that a second thought the next time they go to run this red light.”
Pastors used to knock on doors to invite people to church but that doesn’t happen as much anymore. They say that eye-catching church signs are a great alternative.